Day 2:58 pm

  • The Perils of PAR

    PAR is the name our church gives to a system of automatic giving.  The name is an acronym which stands for “pre-authorized remittances”, not a very romantic or worshipful expression.  The system allows an individual to give a banking institution authorization to remit to the congregation a specified amount from his/her bank account on a monthly basis.

    Treasurers love PAR, and well they should.  Because remittances are more or less certain, there is a reliable, year-round cash flow that is unaffected by church attendance or lack thereof.  The cost of administration is low, and paperwork is minimized.  A friend of mine calls PAR “the ultimate pledge”, because a commitment to give is accompanied by the combination to the vault.

    Donors love PAR.  There’s no last-minute Sunday scramble to find a cheque or the right amount of cash.  Once I’ve signed up I can forget about my donations.  It doesn’t matter if I sleep in, take the kids to soccer practice or go on vacation — my donation will be at church even if I am not.  And because the amount comes out of my account automatically, giving is painless.  I don’t miss money I never had.  My offering becomes just like my telephone, cable, insurance or any other bill I pay in the same way.

    But therein lies one of the problems with PAR.  The structure of our liturgy makes the point that giving is an act of worship.  It was never intended to be just like paying any other bill.  When I am at church, as a PAR donor I can just give the ushers a cheery little wave to say “Don’t bother passing the plate to me; I gave at the office.”  When I do that I am missing out on something very important.

    The other difficulty I see is that the power of example can be lost.  My wife and I were early and enthusiastic adopters when PAR was first offered in our congregation.  We used the system all through the years when our daughters were growing up.  It dawned on me much later that they had probably never seen their parents put an offering on the plate.  I have strong memories of my parents putting bills into the offering envelope every Sunday, and then placing the envelope on the plate as it was passed down the pew.  But my children never even saw me write a cheque to the church.  What had we taught them?

    Some congregations have addressed these problems by printing (and sometimes laminating in plastic) re-usable cards that are given to PAR donors.  The cards often have a message indicating that the user has already made his/her offering through PAR, and sometimes contain an appropriate verse from the Bible.  For this to be effective, there must be a system that returns the cards to PAR givers for their use every Sunday.  More important, there must be something that reminds people that when they use the card they are participating in an act of worship, an act of generous giving.

    Another possible solution was offered to me some years ago by a devout Lutheran who said, “The Bible talks about tithes and offerings.  I use PAR for my tithes, but every week I use money in an envelope as my offering to God.”  Talk about the power of example!

    One final comment on the mechanics of giving.  I know of several congregations who have abandoned the practice of passing offering plates during worship.  Instead they have plates in the narthex, and people put their offering in the plate as they enter or leave worship.  The rationale is hospitality; they don’t want visitors to be made uncomfortable by a plate-passing ritual that may be completely unfamiliar to them.  “We don’t ask guests to our home to help pay for the dinner, so why do we ask guests at worship for an offering?”

    It seems to me that this practice, as much as it is a sincere effort to extend hospitality (and for which it should be praised), takes the offering right out of the liturgy and deprives both member and guest alike of the opportunity to participate in a key part of worship.

    What do you think?

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